Sunday, 24 February 2013

Why do music videos exist?

Here is another post for my BTEC Media students as I am starting a new unit with them on Tuesday called Music Video Production. The first assignment is to explain the purposes of music videos. Here's a post to help them get started:

Without music videos, what would we watch while listening to music? Arguably we don’t need to watch anything at all. Music is for our audio pleasure not visual pleasure. But music is also a performance and from the very beginnings of humans making music, there would have been something to watch as we listened. We can’t all go to gigs every day and experience live music with an artist performing in front of us and similarly artists can’t just depend on live gigs for income either so they record their music and hope to sell it in the form of CD’s, vinyl and increasingly digital MP3 downloads.

In order to sell their music, artists need to promote it. They can do this through touring and interviews and typical forms of advertising such as posters and adverts in magazines but they can also get their music to be heard through a huge range of outlets by the use of a music video. Traditionally music would have been heard live but then with the invention of the radio and vinyl, recorded music could be listened to by music fans almost whenever they wanted. 

With the introduction of television, there was another outlet for music to be heard. However not all artists could play live on television all the time so the music video was invented so that recorded music could still be played on television but the audience would also have something to watch. Shows like Top of the Pops popularised the use of the music video and nowadays there are hundreds of music channels across the world, some even exclusively playing music videos. Then video and DVD came along and artists started selling collections of their music videos alongside their albums.

Most recently the internet has become the most common outlet for music to be heard and music videos are therefore available on a huge range of websites, most notably YouTube. Artists and songwriters and the record labels that represent them can all even make some money out of advertising revenue when people stream these videos online. Read more about how YouTube views can make songwriters money here. The risk is that people can also illegally download these videos and songs and therefore the producers lose potential revenue from single sales.

So a music video is a promotional tool that allows the artist and record label to extend the number of outlets that the song can be bought and heard in. It gives the consumer the choice to see something while they hear the song and can also make the people behind the song some money. Music videos can be dirt cheap but also very costly so advertising revenue is not the only way that they can generate income. As mentioned previously, they can also be put onto videos and DVD’s and sold to make more money but increasingly artists can get sponsorship and product placement deals. Music videos can be filled with conspicuous products and this can make the artist and/or record label a fortune. If the artists use the product, for instance drives the car, makes a call on the phone, drinks the drink or wears the watch, then they are likely to be paid even more than if the product is simply featured somewhere in the background. Apparently, Britney Spears made half a million dollars from the product placement in her music video for Hold It Against Me.

Sometimes a music video is tied in to a film release. This can be mutually beneficial for both the artist, record label and the film and its production company. The song features somewhere in the film and parts of the film are featured in the music video. This means every time someone sees the film, they will think of the song (and may even purchase it) and every time someone sees the music video, they will think of the film (and hopefully go and see it or purchase it). This can make more money for everyone involved and is often used for synergy purposes. This is when a company such as Sony that produces both films and music uses the different parts of the business to promote each other. Men in Black for example is a Sony film and the soundtrack featuring Will Smith’s title song is also released by Sony.

All this boils down to promotion and increasing sales. While some music videos are far more arty and do not appear to actually promote the artist in traditional ways, most music videos are simpler marketing tools. Major labels put lots of money into producing music videos that will help create an image of the artist that will appeal to the target audience. Independent labels might be more likely to produce more experimental videos for their artists and some artists, often not even signed to a record label, will even self-produce their own music videos just to give themselves a bigger presence on the internet.

Promotion is vital to increase sales and there can be a number of different goals to it. The aim might be to introduce and establish a new product (in this case the artist and their single is the product), it might be to better position the product in the right marketplace to ensure the target audience will be alerted to it and it might also be to retaliate or make the product stand out from its competition.

In a future post I will explore a number of specific examples of music videos in more detail in order to explain further why they exist.


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